Vacant Buildings Decline in Saint Paul

The number of registered vacant houses in the city of St. Paul has been dropping since hitting its peak in 2008. The number of houses being fixed up and put back on the tax rolls has also been increasing steadily.

The number of registered vacant buildings in the city went from 370 in 2004 to a record of more than 2,000 in 2008. The number decreased to 1,600 in 2009 and about 1,500 last year. About 90% of the vacant properties are single-family residences or duplexes. Vacant houses only make up about 2 to 3% of all residential buildings in Saint Paul, but they're not spread out. It's the concentration of abandoned homes in some neighborhoods that has caused problems.

Monitoring and managing vacant buildings has stressed city resources and compromised neighborhood vitality. The Department of Safety and Inspections, which enforces codes and handles demolitions, spent $338,000 dealing with vacant properties in 2005. This year, the budget is $1.1 million.

Part of the decline in vacant buildings is due to a new ordinance that took effect in 2008 that puts more requirements on owners of vacant properties. It now costs $1,100 to register a vacant building with the city. The condition of a building also determines how easy it will be to sell a vacant home. If it has severe safety code violations, it's labeled Category 3 and no one can buy a vacant home until the owner fixes it up.

The majority of vacant buildings registered with the city are labeled as Category 2, meaning they have multiple safety code violations that need pretty expensive repairs but can be sold if the buyer has the means to do the work. The number of those buildings being fixed and sold is helping to reduce the overall number.

A city the size of St. Paul always will have some number of vacant buildings, but the spike in recent years has been remarkable. And though the numbers of registered vacant buildings are declining, the number of foreclosures isn't going down at a fast enough rate. Foreclosed homes in the city have gone from 480 in 2005 to 2,200 in 2008 to 1,400 in 2010. Nationwide a record number of filings were made last year, and numbers are expected to pile up again this year.

St. Paul has received more than $30 million from the U.S. Department of Housing Urban Development between 2008 and 2010 to buy vacant and foreclosure homes, rehabilitate and raze such homes, set them aside in a land bank and help people buy homes.

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